Mr. Vijayaragavan Gopal

Name: Mr. Vijayaragavan Gopal
Organization: Shanti Ashram
Location: India

Please explain how you have conducted trainings on the Learning to Live Together Programme. (600 words)

I have conducted LTLT training sessions from 2007. I have considered it as a part of my responsibility to spread the message of common brotherhood where ever I go. LTLT has provided me that platform. I strongly believe in self-driven learning. Our role as trainers is just to show the participants the strong and profound truths discussed in the LTLT guidelines. Beyond that we facilitate the learning process. I never advice, force and make long speeches of utopianism. Its all about motivation and the remaining process sets in on its own. That’s is introspection-based learning.

My experience both positive and negative is a reference for beginners. I make them to try out new methodologies, techniques and concepts – experiment-based learning. Only if you experiment and try out new ideas will innovation bloom- innovation based learning. All innovative techniques need not be successful. Some ideas brush the peaks and become critically acclaimed as a contribution for the goodness of humanity, but ideas even though may look comprehensive; may not find acceptance. It would invite scorn and brickbats. Well that’s experience based learning. Whatever be it, the learning process must go on. It’s a cycle of happenings.

I remember when I was doing my first training programme with children in 2007; to explain the word empathy seemed to be very difficult. So we arranged a trip to the local old age home and asked the children to interact with the elderly people there. Later we debriefed and made a role reversal, made the children role play as the elderly people and what they expect from young people. Now the writing was clear on the wall. Its not just sympathy; but it is to put ourselves in the place of people in need and to feel what they are experiencing. We may not be able to alleviate their problems each time but we can surely try to lend an ear, a comforting word and a warm hug. This has been the way how I have conducted my sessions through LTLT. We are mere bridges to link people.

In 2008; a boy called Arun called upon me and said “I and my friends have collected 22 kg rice what can I do anna (brother; in local language – Tamil)”. I said well we can try to distribute them to people in need, Hiv affected families. I guided and just showed them a way and what blossomed was an initiative named FOOD BANK which has sustained itself for the past 10 years and continues to grow stronger, better and more sustainable. The idea received great acknowledgement at the GNRC 5th Forum in Tanzania. In FOOD BANK initiative our volunteers collect handful if not possible fistfuls of rice and grains; store them and distribute them. We are now able to collect, pack and give way 500 kg per month. An innovation from the LTLT based learning – where the question “what I can do to be a solution for poverty” triggered the innovator in the young boy Arun; stands tall 10 years later and today is one of our flagship programmes.

How have you used the LTLT Ethics Education Framework? (400 words)

I have tried to use the LTLT Ethics Education framework in my own way by adapting it to the local needs, customs and requisites. The core values which I have made special care to incorporate in any of the workshops I conduct is to facilitate self-driven learning. I try to drive home the message by kindling their curiosity and to make the participants search out answers and seek the reasons behind them. His enables them to enjoy the joy of discovering solutions on their own, for each discovery even if most trivial is a moment of joy for the discoverer. Next is to create a safe learning environment. I try to create awareness on the context we are discussing. I allow all the wildest of imaginations in my sessions, but the strong undercurrent of context sensitivity will be the fundamental unit. I like this concept of critical conscientiousness enshrined in the LTLT framework. I try to awaken the critical thinking part of their cortex and motivate them to mix empathy in the right proportions for the porridge of Critical conscientiousness. Imagination is our watchword and finally collective action is our goal. This forms my adaptation of the LTLT ethics education framework. “I met Vijay first when he visited the school I was working in, leading a team of facilitators for a LTLT workshop with the children. It was a pleasure to watch him facilitate the workshop and also manage the facilitators’ team of 4. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with Vijay myself, conducting LTLT training workshops in different contexts. In addition, I have also been witness to Vijay’s natural leadership and initiative at Shanti Ashram as the head of the Youth Leadership Programme there. In all of these instances, his commitment and dedication to the cause of the young adolescent has been always evident. His ability to seamlessly integrate the core philosophy of the LTLT framework in all his interactions with the youngsters and in all youth-related programmes is what is truly inspiring…” – Pavithra Rajagopalan, LTLT Trainer, India.

Explain how the conducted trainings have been sensitive to the local context. (400 words)

India is a melting point of cultures traditions and customs. For every 10 km radius there is a distinct change in the dialect of the spoken language. The only common thing in our nation is the diversity of unimaginable extent. We may be seen as a global powerhouse but our struggles continue against poverty. The positive note is that we have a striving youth population that has taken upon itself to heal the wounds of the colonial past and to bridge the gap between the shining and suffering societies that coexist in our nation. We use the LTLT manual to combat child poverty. We built the India Poverty Solutions – a multination initiative now on the lines of LTLT (principle wise). We emphasize on being the solution rather than the problem, we urge collective action and motivate a critical conscientiousness among the groups we interact. We used role -plays, news reporting to highlight the rampant misogynistic practices of child marriage that are still prevalent in some sections of our society. We use the child friendly approaches enshrined in the manual to interact with children to educate them about a good and bad touch. Our fight against violence against children has been immensely boosted by using the LTLT manual. Small group meetings, interactive sessions have made the children to open up and also discuss issues that are considered to be a taboo in the society.

How has the conducted trainings impacted the trained facilitators? (400 words)

I have trained nearly 149 young facilitators in my 12 year journey. Some of them like Kaviya, Sudharson are today young professionals and also trainer of trainees. We have a huge base to volunteers who have been primed by LTLT workshops during their student period and continue to contribute as volunteers on a regular basis. Our volunteer base is something that must been seen – to understand. Young people cutting across lines of region, religions, diverse occupations come together to contribute their share; in our work of building a peaceful world. Their contributions vary from time, ideas to physical work but whatever they contribute arises from shear passion and commitment that has been nurtured through our LTLT workshops and follow-up events. Our facilitators feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Being engineers, doctors, architects, human resource professionals our facilitators spend time to interact with young minds, make them introspect about good values, play games, laugh out loud and finally debrief the principles of LTLT. We feel younger and more energetic.” Joy is more infectious that leprosy “– Mother Teresa. LTLT gives everyone a chance to relive their youth. Even I fell as a teenager when I am into the workshop. Its not just contribution to the society but the inner evolution taking place in each of our volunteers and facilitators. A transformation, a seed of change, a drop in the ocean, a brighter and more compassionate human added to the population of humanity. A foot forward. After all “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step “ Chinese proverb.

Please give some examples to show your resourcefulness and creativity to organize trainings of facilitators. (600 words)

We at Shanti Ashram have adapted the LTLT manual, in ways that it extends maximum benefit to the community where we work. We have made it a point to ‘think globally but act locally” in short “GLO- CAL”. The LTLT manual is designed to engage 12 to 18 year old youth in constructive and creative character building. We used its essence to make it palatable for our kindergarten and primary school children. We now teach those tiny tots the beauty of living together in the language they understand –GAMES and we have used the techniques given in the manual like – My life tree, ball in the air, field visits, diminishing island, reach the stars in a simplified manner. For the all time great Einstein had once said ‘if you can’t explain to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself”. Our experience has should that children are more receptive and such constructive practices in primary school will go a long way in fostering brotherhood and collective action. We have used the LTLT manual to train HIV affection sections to fight against the many odds stacked against them. By using role-plays, dramas; it gives them a platform to express their anguish and at the same time a chance to explain to the world that people with HIV also have a life as any other human and they don’t want anybody’s sympathy; for all they need is space and opportunity to live their life in their own terms. We have used the manual to strengthen families, organise informal meetings with the parents of the children we train. Make them aware of LTLT and engage them in kiosks, my life tree, and other activities. The child within them awakens. So there is now a whole family that intends to do collective action. Well then, thats the beckoning of change for “Family forms the basic unit of a community” .

How have you provided mentorship and guidance to trained facilitators? (400 words)

The trainer facilitator relationship is like the sun and the sea, beautiful and vibrant. One of our volunteers, Mr.Prabu who was our core volunteer suddenly feel of the radar. He used to be an active volunteer and participant in all activities pertaining to LTLT. I was really surprised to find his sudden absence from our regular meetings and LTLT worshops. I travelled to his home to enquire about him .A rude shock awaited me when his family informed me that he had dropped of from school and was now working as a labourer. This set the alarm bells ringing. After multiple sessions of talking, cajoling and convincing I was successful in bring the boy out of daily wage labour. He rejoined school came out with flying colours and todays works at a top university in the city post his master’s in computer science. This is my method of providing mentorship. Be impactful, at the same time we must be ready to go deep into the emotional requirements of our students and strengthen their resolve. Our job is not to teach but to facilitate their progress in becoming self-reliant and resilient. Another success story is of INDIA POVERTY SOLUTIONS where a bunch of our core volunteers set up a platform inspired by LTLT, to reach out to their brethren who weren’t fortunate as they were. It was one of a kind effort where they distributed HUNDI (mud pots ) and asked people to save for 3 months. The money was divided into 3 halves – their own selves, family and the society. The contribution for the society was collected and was used to prevent childhood anaemia, vaccinate children, provide scholarships. The stakeholders and the volunteers decided upon the beneficiaries. Today this programme is a one of a kind effort running successfully for the past 7 years , involving nearly 50 institutions, 4 cities in India and is a seed of change, a contribution of LTLT by shaping young minds early. “When i started as a participant with LTLT tool kit during my college time in the year 2009, i was easily able to get into the concepts and core values of LTLT with practical approach was purely through the guidance of Mr.VIjayaragavan. I was able to understand through his skill of connecting in the local language. He connects me to the local challenges and also he guides to find the solution through our LTLT core values and its concepts. The way he designs the activities during the workshops for the participants will be mind blowing because it connects to the participants in ease by making them to think intellectual. He always guides me to spend good amount of time in pre-workshops which will help me for the better agenda. I always think LTLT is always for children but for me personally he opened the door to reach the LTLT concepts to even adults which eventually resulted me to train more students in college and even university faculties. He guides me to always plan for the follow up activities in all the sessions and workshops for greater impact and i learnt that i built a stronger communication.” – Mr.Sudharson Jayakumar, LTLT Facilitator

How has the Learning to Live Together Programme influenced a positive transformation in you, in a personal and professional level? (400 words)

My brush with LTLT started in 2006 at the South Asia Ethics Education Workshop in Coimbatore. It has been, what I call a long eventful journey of excellence for me. I started off as a facilitator, then a trainer, trainer of trainers and now over the last 12 years I have trained almost 149 young men and women who double up as young professions and facilitators. When I started this journey, I had never felt that these words like “Love Respect Empathy and reconciliation” were relevant in the society, at least not to be taught! as routine science topics. I thought that they were routine qualities that were to be learnt by personal experience and were not fit to be given as a learning module. I always felt that these concepts if taught would be a moral sciences period renamed. But each time we see sectarian violence, the misogynistic temperament prevalent in the society, those millions of refugees stranded in the mid sea or that blood chilling face of Alyan Kurdi who was washed ashore the sands of Caspian sea, the stressful lifestyle and its dreadful complications; well learning is as incomplete as it can be imagined if we don’t infuse introspection based learning and self-driven learning. Of all the sciences practiced, learning to live together stands as a basic science that is of foremost importance because no progress is viable from a society that refuses to work together citing differences in name, gender, colour, race, religion and regions. We will have a mould of unequal growth and inappropriate distribution of resources and chaos. LTLT is the only solution. This is the only science that makes us introspect, appreciate the joy of living, makes us feel that the journey is as beautiful as the goal, makes us think and propels us to go beyond facts and into dept of understanding and accepting realities. This is a transformation that will set in once we have started to delve deep into LTLT.

Please explain how you exemplify a strong role-model of the principles of Learning to Live Together. (400 words)

I have trained nearly 149 young people over the past 12 years. These young men and women are not just one timers or migratory birds that turn up once a blue moon but are regular volunteers and trainers who are with us contributing along with their professional commitments. This word role model is a huge term. I would never take upon myself this mantle. The primary of transformational leadership is that we must avoid such terms as role model, master, leader per say. It is a collective action, togetherness, where everyone is the leader in his own right. Each man is important. Each action is as relevant as the final outcome. There are no role models. We understand each other, accept shortcomings, strengthen each other’s resole and keep on with the work of building bridges. The cloak of royalty, the position to direct people to perform tasks trivialities the whole foundation of living together. It is built of empathy and not transient sympathy. Its mutual trust and respect that runs the show. This is what I exemplify as a string facilitator of the principles of LTLT. “I’m thrilled to hear that Mr. Vijayaragavan has applied for the Most Committed Trainer award. In my mind there can be no one who is more worthy of that distinction. Vijay has been doing this work since 2007 and I have had the opportunity to work with him in many different settings for Ethics Workshops in Coimbatore, Chennai as well as Tokyo. Vijay has a friendly style that puts people at their ease. He lives the content of the LTLT and can put together activities that are thought provoking as well as interesting and interactive. However, I feel his greatest strength lies in his ability to motivate and encourage young people to take up voluntary work. He has mobilized large groups of facilitators and volunteers in countless programmes and activities. I can vouch for this even on a personal level. My daughter Janani who is now 17 has been volunteering at Shanti Ashram since she was about 10. Vijay was one of the main reasons that that shy, reserved child transformed into a strong, quiet, idealistic adolescent. I’m grateful to him for that. His non-judgmental acceptance and respect of all who he meets make young people flock to him. He has the incredible ability of making “being good” be cool!  In my knowledge Vijay is really one of the most committed trainers I have had the pleasure to work with in my long association with Shanti Ashram and Arigatou International. The number of facilitators he has helped develop alone is testimony for that. My best wishes to him…” Prabha Karthik.LTLT Trainer

Explain how you act as an ambassador and advocator of the Learning to Live Together Programme in your local context. (600 words)

LTLT is a way of life for me. Many of our programme bear the insignia of LTLT principles. The idea is to inculcate people the importance of harmonious living. I have never seen social work and LTLT as two different entities. Like our eyes are two but vision is one and beautiful. I have always tried to integrate the core philosophies of LTLT into whatever I do. I have used the LTLT manual to train HIV affected and infected families during our routine programmes of strengthening families affected by HIV. I use the core principles of LTLT when I interact with college students during their official NSS (National Social Service – India) Camps in rural and tribal areas. LTLT becomes the launch pad to train families and integrate various religious heads and members during our regular interfaith council meetings. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that every meeting, programme or social gathering I take part be it official, public or family has taste of LTLT. Even if I were to speak about an another topic – the 12 years of being an LTLT trainer, the thousand and more sessions I would have facilitated, the 149 and counting facilitators I have trained, the countless number of times I would have used in word and deed the message of “ love, respect, empathy and reconciliation” naturally sets in during the course of my interaction. I haven’t exerted myself to emphasis the relevance of LTLT on others nor have I advised or heckled anyone to listen. The beauty is that learning to live together is a necessity and a basic need that today’s man must know. Its not a matter of the cortex but much deeper of the soul. No need to explain and teach. All we need is to show the way, clear the shadow of divisions and make people introspect – this soul searching is the key of living together. My role in LTLT has been a facilitator, a trainer, trainer of trainer and a perpetual student. I work as the head of youth section in Shanti Ashram, an international NGO that works along the principles of Mahatma Gandiji; situated in the vibrant city of Coimbatore in the most diverse country India. I look after the aspirations of one lakh youth who come under our service wings. Be it one to one talk, field visits, peace festivals involving thousands of young people, or massive events like the super congress – involving thousands across the globe, or international meetings like the GNRC forum, GEN FEST; LTLT is our strength to reach out to people and be the change we wish to see in this world. Through our work we have a footprint in 17 States of India and collaborations with 7 faith traditions of India (Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jain &Sikh communities). Through Shanti Ashram’s inspiring pool of 149 facilitators, the impact of the training led to transformation on ground. Out of this, our pride soars to recognize that 24 have completed their advance training and 4 trainers have successfully completed the ‘International Trainers course’ conducted by Arigatou International. Thus our service footprint goes far beyond the region and available to the global efforts of the Arigatou Family. Thank you so much for this effort and I hope and assure to put myself to nurture the children for better and peaceful world. I would like to conclude with my experience and my application with Mahatma Gandhi quote” If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children..”
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